The New Orleans Saints offense has been in the top 5 every season since Sean Payton took over, breaking records and shredding defenses alike. Given this fact, one would not think anything needs to change (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it); however, expect there to be a change in the look and style of the offense, most notably the use of the two tight end set.
The Saints have been trying to slowly implement this, but just haven’t had the personnel. It started off with Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas, but both were injury prone. Then the team drafted Jimmy Graham to go with Shockey, but Shockey couldn’t stay on the field. The same goes for Graham and Thomas. Now, it seems like their problems are solved with the signing of Ben Watson from the Cleveland Browns.
Watson, at 32 years old, still brings a lot of skill, athleticism, and experience to complement the best tight end in the game in Graham. Watson’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but in years where he has made double digit starts he has not disappointed. In 2010, his only season where he made 16 starts, he put up 763 yards on 68 receptions. Keep in mind, this was with the Browns, whose offense was subpar to put it kindly. And in his one season with New England where he made a significant amount of starts, he put up 643 yards in 13 games. In addition, many scouts and coaches say that Watson has one of the highest football IQs in the NFL.
Watson’s athleticism will allow the Saints to be a lot more flexible. For one, teams will not be able to load up on Graham since Watson has the ability to beat single coverage. Also, he will provide more space for the outside receivers if defense decide to pinch in to neutralize the Graham and Watson. The Ben Watson effect goes deeper than the passing game. The use of the bigger, more imposing two tight end sets limits the effectiveness of eight man fronts typically used to stop the run. This will get defenses off balance because the Saints will be able to maintain the threat of the pass without sacrificing the size needed for an effective running game. More importantly, defenses will have trouble matching up with both Watson and Graham since corners will be too small and linebackers and safeties too slow.
This concept is nothing new. The expression “it’s a copycat league” rings true as the New England Patriots have been running this concepts for the past few years with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, just because it isn’t original doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. The Saints will be able to run this concept just as well since they will boast the best two tight end combination in the league (with Hernandez being arrested and all). Though Watson’s signing didn’t generate a lot of hoopla, it may prove to be one of the more important signings the Saints made, propelling the already prolific Saints offense to new heights.